Posted by Steve
Quite a bit to talk about in the aftermath of the J.J. Hardy trade. This off-season will really be all about starting pitching, so that’s what I’ll largely focus on here.
Before we get into that, though, the Brewers made the correct move in declining the $3.7 million option on David Weathers in 2010. Weathers is no longer a solid reliever, and that money will be better spent elsewhere. Now if they’d only do the same with Braden Looper’s option…
In a blog entry published yesterday, Buster Olney ranked the Brewers number 1 on his list of teams “ready and willing to pay the price to land an ace.” He dismissed Roy Halladay and Javier Vazquez because he doesn’t believe they want to trade from an already depleted farm system to land a one-year rental. Instead, he suggests the Brewers could aggressively pursue John Lackey. He is right to say that the Brewers can afford him; they were willing to spend $100 million on CC Sabathia last season.
Problem is, Lackey’s good, but he’s no CC. Career ERA of 3.81, 2.72 K/BB ratio. If you’re into labeling, Lackey is probably more like a strong number two starter on an ideal playoff team from here on out. He’d probably be as good as or possibly even better than Yovani Gallardo, which would be a huge upgrade to the pitching staff, but at what cost? Lackey will be the premiere starting pitcher in free agency, which means he’ll almost surely get at least five years. After the Jeff Suppan debacle, I’m not crazy about the Brewers giving any pitcher more than three years unless he’s a bona fide stud without a prior injury history(a la CC). Lackey hasn’t been seriously injured, but he has missed time each of the last two seasons with elbow problems (never a good sign) and is 31. Paying $15 or so million to a 36-year-old John Lackey is not in the Brewers’ best interests.
The Brewers will likely express interest, as they should, but I imagine they’ll ultimately decide to look elsewhere once the bidding war heats up.
There are other options worth exploring in free agency. Randy Wolf isn’t bad, but he’s probably in line for at least $8 million a year for three years. Names like Doug Davis and Jon Garland do not interest me unless they somehow came cheap; the Brewers don’t need more number four starters making $6-10 million. The type of players they should look at are talented ones that come with injury/durability issues, but will come at a discounted price for that reason. Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer and even our old pal Ben Sheets fits into this category. All three are number 1/2 starter caliber when healthy, but none of them are likely to receive more than a one or two year offer, with the possible exception of Harden.
Another name connected with the Brewers is Mark Mulder. Mulder pitched under newly hired pitching coach Rick Peterson during his best years in Oakland, and the speculation is that he’d like to reunite with Peterson for a comeback attempt. Mulder would not be too expensive, but then again, he shouldn’t be counted on as a top-of-the-rotation guy anymore.
At minimum, I’d expect the Brewers to sign one starter and trade for another. There are two types of trades we might see–a blockbuster, in which multiple players are moved for a good young pitcher with multiple years left before free agency. In this scenario, Mat Gamel is almost certain to be dealt, as he is one of the Brewers most valuable trading chips. The other type of trade is trading a mid-level prospect or two for a solid, established veteran making much more than league minimum. I’ll throw out Aaron Harang’s name as an example. Cincinnati was rumored to be shopping him at the deadline, so I’m assuming he could be available again. The Reds probably wouldn’t require much in a trade if the Brewers took all of Harang’s salary, which they have room for.
I’m very curious to see what the Brewers do this off-season. Forming a formidable pitching staff for next season is an incredibly daunting task considering how bad it was in 2009. We were treated with an early start to the off-season with the Hardy trade, but we’ll likely have to wait at least a few weeks before the ball really gets rolling.